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Bulletstorm

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: People Can Fly
Release Date: Feb. 22, 2011 (US), Feb. 25, 2011 (EU)

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PS3/X360/PC Preview - 'Bulletstorm'

by Thomas Wilde on June 22, 2010 @ 5:10 a.m. PDT

Bulletstorm brings new furor to first-person shooter action with its signature "kill with skill" gameplay, which is packed with blockbuster moments.

This is how People Can Fly describes Bulletstorm:

"It's an orgy of mental illness and your condom is a shotgun."

It's the single best line about anything at this year's E3. It may be the single best thing I've ever heard.

People Can Fly is the developer of Painkiller, one of the best FPSes of all time. At a point in time when the first-person shooter was chiefly being used for greater immersion and intricate storytelling, Painkiller reminded us all about the genre's roots: kicking down the door of hell and murdering everything you see.

Epic Games acquired People Can Fly last year, which explains why Painkiller's sequels are so hilariously awful (apparently Painkiller: Overdose actually kills every fifth person who plays it), and since then, they've been working on Bulletstorm. It's gleefully profane, hilariously violent, and basically awesome.


Game Informer ran a story on Bulletstorm a couple of months ago that went over most of the pertinent details but didn't really convey how entertaining it is. For that, you have to see it in motion, and it helps when somebody is playing it and knows what he's doing.

A lot of games have covered this ground recently, like MadWorld, Bayonetta, and Godhand. It's what's occasionally called a "spectacle fighter" (yeah, I'm quoting Yahtzee, but give me a label and I'll usually use it), where your enemies don't realistically pose a threat, and the actual challenge comes from disposing of them in the bloodiest and therefore best way possible. The problem that traditionally shows up, consequently, is that the game degenerates into doing the highest-value quality kill as often as possible, which turns spectacular bloodshed into a sort of red chore. The most shocking thing in the world is pretty routine the 12th time you see it, and if video games have taught us one thing, it's that you can get used to anything eventually.

The trick is to force the player into constant motion somehow, and Bulletstorm accomplishes that by blowing up everything around you at pretty much all times. It reminds me a bit of THQ's Punisher game from a few years ago. If you're a boring bastard or you're in over your head, it's a high-action shooter with a lot of incidental ultraviolence, like punting a guy into a mutant cactus or something. Once you're good enough to be able to fool around a bit, every routine enemy kill turns into an opportunity to do something intricate and horrible to a man.


Your two big tools for this are your superhuman ability to send people flying with a snap kick and your tether, a blue whiplike energy lash that's attached to your character's left wrist. Punting someone tosses them backward like they've been skyhooked, and using the tether on them both flings them up into the air and slows them down dramatically.

This combination of tools gives you a surprisingly flexible number of ways to kill somebody. Simple headshots give you a point bonus, as does shooting a guy in the groin (which comes in handy if you're me), but you get increasingly large bonuses for kicking them backward into environmental hazards or off of cliffs, punting explosive debris into multiple targets, throwing them into the air and shooting them while they're in slow motion, a groin shot followed by a headshot, kicking a door off its hinges and crushing an enemy between it and a wall, knocking a guy into exposed wiring … you get the idea.

By stringing together enough quality kills, you earn points that are used to optimize your weaponry. This includes the ability to overcharge your carbine, the basic firearm you have for most of the game, or power up the tether. You also have access to a sort of bola grenade, which wraps around an enemy and immobilizes him until you manually detonate the charge. If two opponents are close enough together, you can apparently wrap them both up in the grenade, or simply punt the first one into a group of other enemies before setting it off.


Bulletstorm is fairly narrative-driven, with a story line by the comics writer Rick Remender (AKA the guy who turned the Punisher into Frankenstein), so the featured violence is something you do along the way rather than being all you do. Granted, what little of the story that's been shown so far mostly amounts to the usual first-person-shooter "go there, do this, kill everyone who objects to your presence" sort of deal, but the footage shown at EA's press conference this year involved the hero and his sidekick being chased by what appeared to be a giant metal wheel. I've read Remender's work; I have faith that this game will be appropriately bizarre.

I honestly don't know how Bulletstorm could not be awesome. I've wanted a new game from People Can Fly since I finished Painkiller, and Epic is coordinating with them to get as much mileage out of the Unreal engine as possible. Out of everything I saw at E3 this year, Bulletstorm is probably the game that I'm the most excited about, and yes, saying that about a game EA is publishing makes me feel vaguely unclean. It is a strange new world.



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